Santa Anna

(Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna)

Santa Anna

Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was a real-life caricature of an unstable, unprincipled, military despot of Latin American politics. He served as President of Mexico 11 times—sometimes as briefly as two weeks, other times for 1 to 2 years. He fought in dozens of Mexican wars—on both the Royalist and Republican sides during the Wars of Independence, and on both the Liberal and Conservative sides during the Republican Civil Wars. He defeated the Republic of Texas at the Battle of the Alamo, but later was defeated and captured by Sam Houston at the Battle of San Jacinto. In deciding what to do after his capture, Houston recommended releasing him, stating that "he may or may not honor it [the treaty], but if we allow him to return to politics . . . he will keep Mexico in turmoil for years."

Santa Anna was born to a middle class family in Veracruz and preferred to join the Army at a young age rather than pursue an advanced education. He fought on the Royalist side in the early years but defected to the Republican side, along with Iturbide in 1821. When the Liberals sought to dislodge Iturbide, he switched to the anti-Iturbide faction. He gained renown for himself by leading the Republicans against the Spanish Royalists at Tampico, and was elected President for the first time in 1833 as a Liberal. When the liberal reforms he championed went so far they caused a conservative backlash, he bolted for the conservative side as soon as it threatened to prevail. The conservatives were so disgusted with liberal reforms they sought to replace the constitution with a centralized military dictatorship, but when they attempted to replace the liberal constitution, they suffered rebellions from most of the outlying states, including Texas. It was during this period, in 1836, that Santa Anna led a Mexican army against the Texans at the Alamo and executed all of the defenders. The Texans rose again under Sam Houston and defeated Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto, putting him temporarily out of influence in Mexico.

It is difficult to follow the twists and turns of Mexican politics for the following years. Neither the liberal nor the conservative factions were able to form a stable government, and their alliances with European governments, such as France, changed as the political fortunes of Europe changed. In 1838 France demanded payment for a debt the Mexican government had defaulted on, and Santa Anna used the ensuing war to reinvigorate his political career. After he "came out of retirement" and was severely wounded at the Battle of Veracruz, he used his war wounds to catapult himself back into power. The government he took over, however, was bankrupt and in utter chaos. He crushed one rebellion, but could not prevent disgruntled citizens throughout Mexico from taking arms. He resigned the presidency in 1844 and was exiled to Cuba. But not for long. The impending War with the United States temporarily restored his fortunes. He was recalled to lead the army against the United States, but his political influence did not long survive Mexico's humiliating defeat. By 1851 Santa Anna found himself again in exile, this time to Jamaica.

Santa Anna's last term as President, ironically was his longest. He was recalled from exile in 1853 to lead a conservative government. He attempted to declare himself dictator for life, but was instead overthrown and once again sent into exile, this time for good. He left Mexico in 1855 and did not return intil a general amnesty was granted in 1874. He died two years after returning to Mexico.

Key events during the life of Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna:

Born in Veracruz Mexico to a middle class family.
Joined the Royalist Army at the age of 16.
Fought on the Royalist side at the Battle of Medina.
Promoted to Captain.
Declared loyalty to Iturbide, when he changed sides in favor of Independence.
Defected to the Republicans opposed to Iturbide.
Marched against and invading Spanish army at Tampico.
Elected President for the first time as a Liberal.
Newly established military government caused rebellion in several provinces.
Led Mexican troops against Texas at the Battle of the Alamo.
Defeated by Sam Houston at the Battle fo San Jacinto.
Fought of a French invasion at Veracruz.
Became president for the sixth time, but eventually exiled to Cuba.
United States declares War on Mexico. Santa Anna Returns from Exile.
United States defeats Mexico. Santa Anna exiled to Jamaica.
Returns from exile to lead a conservative government. Declares himself dictator for life.
Overthrown by liberal government of Benito Juarez. Exiled to Cuba.
Returned to Mexico after a general amnesty.
Died in Mexico City.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
The Mexican War  in  Story of the Great Republic  by  H. A. Guerber
Capture of Vera Cruz  in  The War with Mexico  by   Horatio O. Ladd
Winning of Freedom—Santa Anna and Texas  in  The Story of Mexico  by  Charles Morris
Second Conquest of the Capital of Mexico  in  Historical Tales: Spanish American  by  Charles Morris
Republic and Revolt of Texas  in  A Short History of Mexico  by  Arthur Howard Noll
Victory at San Jacinto  in  Boys' Book of Border Battles  by  Edwin L. Sabin

Short Biography
Daniel Boone Explored the Kentucky and Tennessee Valley. Opened a road for settlers through Cumberland Gap.
Davy Crockett Tennessee Frontiersman and congressman. Involved with Texas independence. Died at the Alamo.
Agustin Iturbide Spanish General who changed sides and supported Mexican independence. Later made himself emperor.
Sam Houston Founder of the state of Texas, and first governor.
Benito Juarez Leader of Mexico during the War of Reform. Passed, enforced anti-clerical laws. Supported informally by United States.